Predicting the Impact of Sea-Level Rise on Caribbean Sea Turtle Nesting Habitat

Abstract: The projected rise in sea level is likely to increase the vulnerability of coastal zones in the Caribbean, which are already under pressure from a combination of anthropogenic activities and natural processes. One of the major effects will be a loss of beach habitat, which provides nesting sites for endangered sea turtles. To assess the potential impacts of sea-level rise on sea turtle nesting habitat, we used beach profile measurements of turtle nesting beaches on Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles, to develop elevation models of individual beaches in a geographic information system. These models were then used to quantify areas of beach vulnerable to three different scenarios of a rise in sea level. Physical characteristics of the beaches were also recorded and related to beach vulnerability, flooding, and nesting frequency. Beaches varied in physical characteristics and therefore in their vulnerability to flooding. Up to 32% of the total current beach area could be lost with a 0.5-m rise in sea level, with lower, narrower beaches being the most vulnerable. Vulnerability varied with land use adjacent to the beach. These predictions about loss of nesting habitat have important implications for turtle populations in the region.

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